LEWISTON — Erika Lamere stepped onto the Alumni Gymnasium floor for the first time as a freshman with three other players in her class and first-year head coach Alison Montgomery. Fast forward to the present day, and Montgomery and Lamere are the last ones standing from that 2015 Bates women’s basketball team.

While others fell by the wayside, Lamere stayed, even after an ACL injury that sidelined her for her sophomore year and part of her junior season. The love of the game and a rock-solid relationship with Montgomery kept the lone senior with the Bobcats.

“We have a really strong relationship that has been able to grow,” Lamere said. “Yes, on the court we have a coach-player relationship, but off the court she really acts as a really good mentor and friend to us with all aspects of our lives. Being on the same page this year as the only senior is going to be super-important. I just have a really good line of communication.”

Not only is Lamere the lone senior, but the Bobcats also have only one healthy junior on the squad in Melanie Binkhorst. The two upperclassmen have been crucial as Montgomery works to develop a culture she hopes will stay at Bates for years to come.

“Erika is an outstanding leader and has a great relationship with her peers,” Montgomery said. “They respect her. She’s just a really inclusive leader. Her and I have tried to build on, ‘OK, I know you’re a lone senior, I know you’re a lone captain, but you and I have to be teammates this year.’ Her and I are the only two people in the program today that have seen it through since the moment I’ve got here, and her and I believe in that vision and hopefully we can see it through to the end of the season.

“Mel is a talented kid and has had a role on the court and so she will lead us in that way as the player on the court with the most game experience,” Montgomery added. “We are going to rely on those girls to be our leaders while also pushing our underclassman to not hold back from being important because we have so many of them.”

Bates has 13 underclassmen, including seven freshmen, this season. To Montgomery, this class of freshmen is significant because they, along with the sophomore class, signify the start of a new era of players who love the game and are at Bates to focus on basketball.

“You spend a couple years recruiting kids, so it’s building that relationship, them knowing my expectations before they even get here and them sharing the passion before they even get here,” Montgomery said. “… It’s been really exciting and a nice relief for me to feel like I start the season like I just have more chemistry with the kids and they know what’s expected.”

Lamere said that part of her and Binkhorst’s roles as leaders involve acclimating the newcomers into the culture Montgomery is curating.

“I think that’s one thing that has really changed with the mindset going in,” Lamere said. “When I was a freshman, the intensity wasn’t there. Now it’s shifted and everyone is expected to have a really high standard in the weight room, conditioning, basketball — all three aspects which wasn’t there before. It started day one, but for me it kind of started junior year or later on.”

Bates opens the season against Johnson & Wales on Friday, and then plays Thomas on Saturday. Binkhorst said that bouncing back early from adversity will be key to knowing how the group of newcomers will fare in NCAA Division III basketball.

“I am excited to see how we respond to adversity because obviously there isn’t a game that you don’t have to go through adversity, so I am curious to see how we overcome that as a team,” Binkhorst said.

Lamere is optimistic about how the offense will play as the Bobcats look to bounce back from a 7-17 season a year ago.

“One thing we have focused on in our offense this year is to be able to make plays individually and as a team,” Lamere said. “We have a lot of playmakers on the team and some young, really talented girls on the team and we are trying to see what they can do.”

There hasn’t been one sole player that the team has leaned on in its first couple weeks of practice, and that’s encouraging to Binkhorst.

“We have a lot of groups that work well together, and that’s one of the huge shifts I’ve noticed over my three years since I’ve come here is that there’s a lot of talented players so we won’t need one player to rely on,” Binkhorst said. “We are striving for different team dynamics that can work well together.”

Montgomery is excited to have almost the entire team be her recruits. The team chemistry has been getting stronger as the Bobcats progress into the start of the regular season. The attitude and energy has also been exactly what Montgomery envisioned when she started recruiting the sophomores and freshmen.

“They’ve really bought into what it takes on the court, where they’re not just here for two hours a day for practice, they’re putting in the extra time,” Montgomery said. “They also understand how important it is to develop relationships and have chemistry and the way that translates.”

The Bobcats are eager to see how the first few minutes turn out in Friday’s game.

“I think just, especially in our first game, on offense coming out on the attack and really pounding the offense and our transition play in the first quarter and carrying that through,” Lamere said. “The first quarter will be really important for the whole season to set the tone for how we want to approach the whole season.”

Junior Melanie Binkhorst, left, and senior Erika Lamere will be counted on as the only healthy upperclassmen on this year’s Bates College women’s basketball team. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)


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